Wine Pages

Mike Steinberger's Wine Diarist


WBW #40 - Petite Sirah

This month's Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Megan, the Wannabe Wino. I guess the downright cold temperatures (at least here in the northeast United States) seem fitting for her topic: Petite Sirah. Genetically unrelated to Syrah (or Shiraz to those who prefer the South African/Aussie name inspired by the Mesopotamian city where the variety is believed to have originated), Petite Sirah has been confused for that variety as well as a few others, before some DNA profiling determined it was "probably" related or cloned from the French Rhone varieties Durif or Peloursin.

In any case, it can be found throughout warm climate growing regions in the Americas - most notably in Argentina and California (where there are approximately 4,000 acres planted - some quite old). It's been used as a blending agent for Zin, Cab, and others in order to bulk up or darken the color of those wines, but seems to have found a following as the lead variety in recent years. Examples I've encountered have ranged from surprisingly pretty (as produced by Fleur de California) to inky and intense (in the hands of the likes of Ridge). Though I first tasted the variety on its own about 10 years ago at Foppiano, it's not the sort of thing I spend too much time pursuing or drinking, so this was an opportunity for me to get reacquainted.
I unearthed a forgotten bottle from the back of my cellar of Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2001 from California's Mendocino County. The vineyard, with it's considerable elevation (1800 ft), can certainly be considered a place of cool climate viticulture - though few will admit it, most of California isn't so cool.

Eaglepoint Ranch is a vineyard which makes its own wines, but also contracts to sell grapes to other producers. It is a partnership between Mendocino viticulturist Casey Hartlip and John Scharffenberger. If that second name sounds familiar, it should. Scharffenberger is also the mind behind terrific, affordable California sparkling-wine as well as some pretty darn special chocolate. His family bought Eaglepoint ranch back in 1973 and planted it a couple of years later with Zinfandel. These days they are also growing Petite Sirah, Grenache, Syrah, and most recently they started producing Albarino.

Like other wines I've had from Eaglepoint Ranch, this wine has a pretty darn chewy texture with very concentrated dark fruit and earth flavors and a whole bunch of tannins even after a few years in bottle. I bought it about four years ago, so I'm not certain of the exact cost... but some research suggests it must have been something in the low twenties.

Bottom line: I liked the wine very much for its distinctive character and impressive heft, but ultimately, it's not the kind of wine I can enjoy more than a glass of in one sitting - a bit too rich for me. Instead, I'd probably work my way up to it allowing it to appear only at the point that an equally hefty piece of red meat was available to keep it company at the table.